Portable Notebook: ASUS K42J

We'll start by horning in on a little bit of Vivek's territory: choosing a portable powerhouse. ASUS actually has a healthy history of producing 14-inch notebooks with performance characteristics that frankly shame their larger kin. Yours truly has owned two of these beasts (an A8Jm and an X83) and can attest to their quality and performance. Midrange graphics in a 14-inch machine? Yes please.

Our pick for the most portable performance machine goes to the ASUS K42JV-X1, available at Newegg for the princely sum of $949. This tiny terror comes equipped with an Intel Core i5-450M running at a nominal 2.4 GHz clock speed on both cores (2.66GHz with Turbo), 4GB of DDR3 RAM, a 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, and a GeForce GT 335M with 1GB of DDR3 video memory. The GT 335M is equivalent to the desktop GeForce GT 240, but with a reduced shader count (72 instead of 96) and the lowered clocks that are par for the course for mobile graphics.

While we don't have hands on experience with this particular model, its predecessors have been traditionally reliable and popular machines that have offered middling battery life but outstanding overall performance. The low resolution screen (1366x768) and lack of ExpressCard or FireWire make the K42 a tough sell for multimedia work, but for raw performance and portability it's a very tough nut to crack.

Portable Runners Up: ASUS UL80Vt and Alienware M11x

The K42 may use more full-bodied, luscious mainstream processors, but if you demand greater portability you'll be looking toward notebooks utilizing Intel's CULV platform. In that instance, the 14-inch UL80Vt line certainly fits the bill. It's last generation in every sense, using a Core 2 Duo and switchable GeForce G 210M instead of a modern Core 2010 chip and Optimus-enabled NVIDIA hardware, but it's reviewed well and you can pick it up for $700 these days. The UL50Vf was essentially the same system but with a 15.6" chassis and Optimus, but the 14" model was far more interesting. Odds are ASUS has a refresh of this notebook on the way, so it may not hurt to hold out and see what shakes loose. Other alternatives from ASUS include the UL30Jc—it's a 13.3" unit that packs a much more potent CPU, though the GPU isn't at the same level as the K42.

If you want to go simultaneously smaller and bigger, the Alienware M11x is universally beloved even by reviewers that ordinarily hate gaudy Alienware machines (such as yours truly.) With the M11x, Alienware produced something no one else had: an authentic gaming netbook. This one horns in on Vivek's territory, too, but if you're of the belief that more of less is more and are willing to take the hit to processor power, the M11x makes a convincing case as an alternative to the very similarly equipped K42. The original M11x used switchable graphics with an overclocked Core 2 SU7300, similar to the UL80Vt; an updated model with Arrandale ULV and Optimus is now available on Alienware's site—we're still waiting for our review model, but there's no reason the new unit shouldn't surpass the original in every important metric.

Frankly, we'd like to see more Optimus laptops with reasonable GPUs (like the K42Jv above—why doesn't it have Optimus?), but most of those will fall into the ultraportable category so we'll save further discussion for next week. The U30Jc had all the goods but still needs more than a 310M if you want gaming performance. The M11x refresh looks to be the most potent Optimus laptop out there right now, which is why we had to make room for it even if this isn't the ultraportable guide.

14" and Larger Notebook Buyers' Guide Budget Performance Notebook
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  • ericgl21 - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Eventhough those Precision models are on the expensive side, they are considered well-built and powerful machines.

    I wonder why Anand "forgot" about those...
    Reply
  • Silma - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Recommending untested products is unprofessional and a joke. Reply
  • sheltem - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Phenomenal laptop but a little pricey, but I was able to swing one for $1861 after discounts. Not a single bit of gloss anywhere, even on the screen. Also has firewire and a expresscard 54 slot that the reviewer was jonesing for :) If you opt for the FirePro 7820, which is the professional version of the Mobility 5870, you can drive up to 4 displays, including the laptop! Tomshardware has a picture here:
    http://media.bestofmicro.com/,J-Q-243062-3.jpg

    They have a premium panel option called Dream Color 2. It's a 10-bit IPS panel. I opted for the standard 1920x1200 panel which is a 8-bit TN panel.
    Reply
  • Drag0nFire - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Surprised Lenovo wasn't given any consideration, particularly for the "portability" category. This seems like an oversight. It may not be your personal favorite (and what they did to the screens is a pity), but many people stand by the build quality and overall ThinkPad design. I've never yet met someone who's unhappy about a ThinkPad... and I can say all my friends were jealous of mine in college. Reply
  • racerx_is_alive - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Copied and pasted a few of the winners and suggestions into google, but there were a few that didn't turn up any reasonable responses. Searched amazon and newegg as well, hoping that perhaps some of the recommendations were product families and they'd give me related results. Perhaps the reviewer could include some links to where these laptops can be purchased? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    All of these should be readily available... we've reviewed many of them. Which ones are you unable to find? I may go back through and try to dig up links, though.... Reply
  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Or not... it seems Acer has quietly discontinued the 5740G-6979 and replaced it with a much slower HD 5470 model. The 7740G with HD 5650 is still readily available, but it's 17.3" instead of 15.6".

    A few other options for moderate gaming:
    MSI GE600 (i5-430M + HD 5650) for $860:
    http://www.mwave.com/mwave/SKUSearch_v3.asp?px=FO&...

    Sony VAIO VPCEB1PFX/B (i3-330M + HD 5650) for $920:
    http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/searchtool...

    Toshiba A665D-S6059 (Phenom II P920 + HD4250/5650) for $860 (review is coming next week):
    http://www.antonline.com/p_PSAX3U-002004-GP_822084...

    ASUS G51JX-X1/X3 (i5-430M/i7-720QM + GTS 360M) for ~$1100:
    http://www.amazon.com/Republic-Gamers-G51JX-X3-15-...

    I'm putting in links for the remaining laptops, though.
    Reply
  • racerx_is_alive - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    Thanks for putting in those links- The two that I had problems searching for were the Acer one you mentioned, and the ASUS at the beginning. I had searched for the text straight from the heading "ASUS K42J" (without quotes) and it didn't give me anything promising on the first page, mostly a bunch of forums. The link is great though.

    Thanks
    Reply
  • Dustin Sklavos - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    The K42J is on NewEgg's site:
    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    It looks like it has a low rating, but one of the users is mostly just griping about functionality that the majority of modern notebooks don't have (he's upset the graphics aren't switchable in the BIOS, which is absurd).
    Reply
  • bji - Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - link

    As time goes on I realize that my dream of ever finding a laptop to better my Panasonic Y2 from 2005 are never going to come to fruition. Because in order to beat the Y2, someone is going to have to offer a laptop that:

    - Has a 14 inch or larger display with a resolution *at least* 1400x1050
    - Weighs no more than 3.5 lbs
    - Is fanless

    I think that with today's tech this is certainly possible; ultra low power Core 2 processors match the power consumption of the Pentium M in the Y2 and should be able to go fanless. Displays are better now than back in 2005 so there's no reason that a 1400x1050 14 inch display is not possible (of course these days it would probably have to be widescreen, but there is no reason that it has to have fewer pixels! 1366x768? That's just pathetic!). And Panasonic already proved that you can build such a machine at 3 lbs 4 oz five years ago. That's 3 lbs 4 ounces including a built-in DVD player/CD-RW drive and a battery big enough for 5+ hours battery life.

    Yes, Panasonic did all that (and more!) in 2005, and I have yet to see any laptop in the last 5 years that even comes close. Things seem to just be getting worse with ever new laptop seemingly heavier than the last, with more cheap plastic than ever, lower resolutions, and OH LOOK SHINY displays.

    I would gladly plunk down another $2,500 for a laptop that was a reasonable update to the Y2. I use my laptops for 5 years at least (still use the Y2 daily) so I don't think that cost is unjustified for a quality product. Unfortunately, in these days when nobody wants to pay more than $1,000 for a laptop, I suspect I may be the last person on earth in this market and no company is ever going to offer any laptop that is actually better than the Y2. So sad.
    Reply

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